Today is February 5, which according to Days of the Year is Western Monarch Day. A day to raise awareness about the beautiful creature that makes one of the most incredible migrations on Earth, and the alarming decline in its population (about 90% in the past 20 years).
At the same time, details are still emerging about the murders of two men who were passionate protectors of the overwintering site of millions of monarchs in central Mexico. Homero Gómez González was an environmental activist and manager of the El Rosario monarch sanctuary. Raúl Hernández Romero was an El Rosario tour guide. I encourage you to follow the link to learn more about them and their work.
So in observance of all these events, it seems appropriate to show and tell about two of my monarch artworks that have timely significance.
Faith’s End was a moment in time that I actually saw at El Rosario reserve in Mexico, the same sanctuary with which the murdered men were associated. I may have met one or both of them when I visited in February 2011; I don’t know. As I followed the dusty trail to the site where enormous clusters of monarchs cling to oyamel firs, here and there was a monarch which had fallen to the ground while the temperature was too cold for it to fly. We were cautioned to watch our step. That’s hard to do when your attention is riveted to what’s going on overhead! And so, some did get squashed. And this was one of them.
It was an ironic and poignant sight. Someone who had made the long trip to see the monarchs had killed one in the process. I was immediately struck by the metaphors.
Metaphor 1: Just as this one monarch was killed by one human’s careless footstep, so millions have been killed by humanity’s use of insecticides and herbicides and aggressive clearing and mowing of land that used to grow milkweed and wildflowers.
Metaphor 2: This monarch flew thousands of miles to Mexico with the faith that it would survive the winter and fly north again in spring to mate and begin the cycle again, and instead was killed by carelessness; and I am losing faith that we will stop ourselves from annihilating the species.
If ever there was a scene which demanded me to make art, this was it.
It has had the desired effect. At first glance, viewers think simply “Oh, a pretty monarch butterfly.” Then they notice the footprint. Then they realize the monarch is dead, and was smashed. They can’t help but think about it. How did this happen? What is really going on here?
This image came to me in a flash of inspiration. I didn’t know what it meant, only that I needed to put it to paper. I borrowed a rifle bullet from a friend; he had exactly the kind of bullet that was in my vision. I found just the right monarch reference with the right lighting from the thousands of photos I’ve taken at overwintering sites in Mexico and coastal California, as well as my own garden. I finished No Fate in only two days.
When I display No Fate and people ask what it means, I ask them to instead tell me what they think it means. I’ve been delighted at the variety of interpretations. Everything from “it’s about the contrast between something delicate and alive and something rigid and dead” to “it’s about gun control” to “it’s about hope for an end to wars”.
My own idea about what it means changes from week to week, month to month. And I’m fine with that. If art is supposed to make one stop and think, and everyone brings their own evolving experiences and opinions to it, why wouldn’t its meaning change over time?
Today, February 5, Western Monarch Day, I was struck by how fitting it is in connection with the murders of the two men at El Rosario, although they were not shot. Today it has this meaning: It represents the death of two soldiers in the war against the illegal logging that threatens the monarchs’ preservation. The monarch gently lands like an angel’s kiss, ending the violence they suffered in the last minutes of their lives. Their fate does not have to mean the end of the sanctuary and the monarchs, if enough supporters stand up for the cause.
If you’d like to support the cause, you can help by planting milkweed seeds and nectar-producing wildflowers, and by donating to the Xerces Society, which raises awareness at a grand scale for communities, corporations, states, and government, does research studies, and supports milkweed and habitat efforts.
A Positive Ending
This has been a more somber and even maudlin post than I usually write! So I’ll end on a brighter note with a happier monarch piece.
This lovely lady was laying eggs on a milkweed in my own garden last summer, and I was fortunate to get a head-on closeup of her as she was unfurling her proboscis to sip nectar from a blossom that was just out of sight. There’s no “message” here, just an individual monarch portrait.
Happy Western Monarch Day!